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CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT AND TRANSFORMATION IN HIGHER AGRICULTURAL EDUCATION: SOME LESSONS FROM THE SASAKAWA INITIATIVE IN SELECTED UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA. By. Dr. Moses M. Zinnah Programme Coordinator for West/Central Africa (Winrock International/Sasakawa).
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TRANSFORMATION IN HIGHER AGRICULTURAL
EDUCATION: SOME LESSONS FROM THE
SASAKAWA INITIATIVE IN SELECTED
UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES IN
Dr. Moses M. Zinnah
Programme Coordinator for West/Central Africa
Curriculum development or transformation is one of the critical challenges of any successful institution of higher education.
Innovative and demand-driven curriculum enables a college or university to remain relevant and to be one step ahead of its rivals, set trends and lead change in order to survive.
The pressure on higher agricultural education institutions to develop demand-driven curricula or to reform and adapt existing curricula to meet the rapidly changing needs of society is no exception.
It assists selected African universities/colleges to develop relevant formal in-service diploma and degree programmes for mid-career agricultural extension staff.
Encourages and supports networking among participating SAFE institutions.
SAFE’s guiding principle is experiential learning, with particular emphasis on extended off-campus practical training programmes in the students’ work environment. These off-campus training programmes are called Supervised Enterprise Projects (SEPs).
SAFE programmes currently exit in nine selected universities and colleges in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
The SAFE curriculum revitalization initiative
involves six essential steps that are intended as a
guide to help universities and colleges in Africa that
are in the process of developing or reforming their
agricultural extension curricula.
These flexible steps are only a guide (not a prescription)
that could be adapted by other universities and colleges in
developing demand-driven curricula.
Step 2: Clarifying common vision and mission
Step 3: Formal agricultural training needs assessment
Step 4: Workshop for stakeholders
Step 5: Development of a responsive, demand-driven curriculum
Step 6: Establishing strong network among institutions and agencies
4.0 Some Lessons From the SAFE Curricula Development and Reform Initiative
1. Curriculum development or reform is a process not an event. It is an on-going process. Therefore, colleges and universities should always make plans for continuous reviews and revisions of their curricula to meet the changing needs of society.
2. Curriculum development/reform is rewarding. If training programmes meet the needs of the society, the visibility of the training institution is enhanced, both locally and externally.
3. Training programmes at the undergraduate and lower levels should focus on generalist education rather than a specialist orientation. Results from numerous studies in different parts of the world, including a recent study in 2001 in Ghana, point to the need for generalist training at the undergraduate and lower levels. This ensures a strong broad-based knowledge in other disciplinary areas and also enhances the employment opportunities for graduates.
4. It is important to meld together the various subject matter disciplines in the faculty/school/college (especially the social sciences which tend to be relegated to the second or third place in priority) in multi-disciplinary manner. Most of the problems that communities face are multi-faceted and therefore, require multi-disciplinary approaches to solving them.
5. It is important to keep in mind that a good curriculum is only as good as its implementation. Therefore, to ensure that a good curriculum achieves its objectives, it is important to pay particular attention to, among other things, the following points:
· Attract, recruit and retain qualified and experienced core staff to nurture and implement the curriculum. This includes competitive salaries, flexibility to manage time and produce independent research, opportunity to attend professional conferences/workshops, and more importantly transparency in the promotion procedures. There should also be opportunities for lecturers to pursue advanced training, especially at the Ph.D. level.
Emphasize student-centred, teaching-learning. Move the responsibility for learning from the lecturers to the students; the lecturers become facilitators, assisting the students to reach their individual goals. This sounds easy in theory, but it is difficult in practice because it demands a radical change from what currently prevails in most universities and colleges in Africa.
· Place emphasis on practical, experiential learning. This will enable students to translate the vast knowledge gained into a basis for decision-making and understand both its relevance and inadequacies for addressing issues faced in rural farming communities or for developing entrepreneurial projects as a teaching tool in starting and running their own enterprises after gradation.
· Provide basic instructional facilities (i.e., library, reference books, journals, computer and computer software) to foster effective teaching-learning processes.
· Use multiple innovative student assessment techniques to capture the diverse learning styles of learners. The assessment should include a balanced combination of conventional end-of-class examinations (with more emphasis on analysis and application, than on recall), and other innovative methods such as case studies, reports of individual and/or small group projects, term papers, oral presentations, debates, peer reviews, and employer assessments after attachments.
6. Forge formal network with employers, public and private sectors, NGOs, farmers and others, both within and outside the country, that have a stake in the agricultural education.
7. Devise ways and means to minimize “territoriality” among the various departments within the faculty or college because it limits the ability to design innovative curriculum to address specific evolving needs. Territoriality also results in unnecessary competition for credit hours in the total credit hours required for students to graduate.
8. Acknowledge that by the time a student completes a typical 4-year agriculture degree programme in a university, most of what he/she has learnt is obsolete.
Therefore, it is important to emphasize critical/systems thinking skills and place more emphasis on life-long and experiential learning approaches to enable to “learn how to learn”.
Students should also be encouraged to take more responsibility for their learning, and to develop skills in working in teams or groups composed of diverse individuals to enhance horizontal and mutual sharing of experiences.
There must be committed leaders who are capable of formulating clear vision and mission for training and cultivating a flexible interdisciplinary approach to education in addressing the complex and changing needs of the agricultural sector.
Curriculum cannot be implemented by a Vice Chancellor or Dean acting alone. There must be a team working together toward a common goal; and this should be coupled with the necessary resources to implementation and sustain the demand-driven nature of the curriculum.
I urge the leadership and teaching staff of the University of The
Gambia to consider the lessons of the SAFE programme in the
on-going discussions on developing a new demand-driven
undergraduate degree curriculum in agriculture.
One of the greatest benefits of this Participatory Curriculum Development Workshop is the opportunity to get diverse views from stakeholders engaged in the agricultural sector in The Gambia. The University of The Gambia should take advantage of their contributions in developing the new agriculture curriculum to ensure its responsiveness and relevance.
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